Author Topic: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...  (Read 1058 times)

Papa bear

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Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« on: March 27, 2019, 05:11:19 PM »
I’ve got a 2 unit rental townhome, side by side, 5br 2ba each side built in 1910.   This is a college campus area, so it’s usually full of 5-6 students. 

As this is an old place, and I didn’t do a full gut job remodel, there is only ductwork going to 2/5 bedrooms, and the only return duct is on the main floor.  There are no runs to the 3rd floor at all.

The market is changing, and students are starting to expect AC to their rentals, especially for 3rd floor converted attic spaces. To continue to charge a premium, or even to get the unit leased, I need to get some sort of AC through the house.  Current rents are 1950/unit.  I won’t see any rent increase from AC until aug2020 at the earliest and may only increase rent 100/unit.

On the advice of my HVAC guy (who I trust and always is very reasonably priced), he quoted out new supply and return ducts, plus adding the coil and 3 ton condensing unit.  The ducting would have to be done while the unit is occupied, unfortunately, adding to the costs and at a hassle to current tenants.  This would get heat and AC to each bedroom and living space all at a cost of... 5300/side for a total of 10600.  I would also then need to switch out a major electric appliance on each side, since there is only 100amp service per unit. So I’m looking at 10600 + a gas range, and a gas h2o tank (that gives me 1 change / unit) So total cost is closer to 12k. 

My other option is going with a 2 head mini split per unit. This would get heat and AC to the 2nd and 3rd floor, but not to each bedroom, and no AC to the main living space or kitchens.  the air handler heads would most likely sit in a hallway. Mitsubishi splits run about 2500 for an 18k btu 2 head unit, and other brands could be had for closer to 1800.  For info, the 3rd floor is ~400sf and 2nd floor is ~600sf.

I have not used mini splits at any property so I’m not super familiar with them.  I can run the electrical and condensate lines, but I don’t know enough for the refrigerant.  Is Mitsubishi the best value?  Do off brands have more issues or require more maintenance?  Would this be enough to cool off bedrooms with their doors closed?

I think the “right way” is to get central air and heat to each room, with correctly sized supply and return ducts. But 12k is a tough pill to swallow for not a great rental return.  Mini splits, while more cost effective, wouldn’t give the best output, but may be enough to keep things comfortable.

Thoughts?  Who has worked with mini splits, and how effective are they? If this was your rental, how would you proceed?


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Jon Bon

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2019, 10:08:08 AM »
Well first off that sounds like a very big job, and $12,000 for all that work does not sound like a bad price. However it is still $12,000.

If you are looking for a bit of a 'hack' I would think you could try doing a few hotel style AC's. Not sure about cost or feasibility, but it is something to look into.  I have a rental with a finished third floor and a build in window unit run though the wall. So far the tenants seem to like that well enough.  My thoughts with rentals and features is they usually tent to be binary.

AC: Yes or No
Garage
Disposal
Laundry
Parking

These things are either a 1 or a 0. The quality of them does not early as much as long as they are there in some way. So if you have a kick ass central AC, or creative Mini-splits and window units I think it will get mostly the same amount of reaction from tenants.




SunnyDays

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2019, 09:00:16 PM »
How are you getting away with not having heat in 3 bedrooms?  Ohio isn't exactly Hawaii.  Your tenants want AC but are okay with no heat?  Strange!  If they report this to whatever rental authorities you have there, are you not going to have problems?  Regardless, since AC is starting to be expected, don't look at it as only a minimal rent gain, but as a potential rental income loss if no one wants to rent from you.  Plus, if you want to sell this place down the road, wouldn't you get a higher price if it has AC?  And a proper one at that (not a "split," whatever that is)?  Is having "heads" sitting in a hallway against code?  All things to consider.

Papa bear

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2019, 09:18:43 PM »
It’s not like the rooms are frigid or pipes are freezing, the furnace does a great job heating the entirety of the house.  It’s just that the ductwork doesn’t supply all living space.  So the rooms wouldn’t be as comfortable as they could be.

The AC portion poses a bigger problem. There are no returns on the 2nd or 3rd floor, which is what is making this a bigger job.

I’m leaning toward paying to have this done with central air, not with the mini splits. 

Mini splits have a heat pump condenser and air handler units that get wall or ceiling mounted.  They are ductless and wouldn’t need all the extra work done. I’ve seen them used with other houses and they seem to work well, but I wasn’t sure if they would be appropriate for this property.  And they wouldn’t provide AC or heat directly to the bedrooms.

Still. 12k is a tough pill to swallow.


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monarda

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2019, 09:59:32 PM »
There's a way to put ducts on a minisplit. We looked into that to heat/cool our bathroom from a minisplit on the other side of a wall. We opted against it (and went for heated tile floors), but this might be something you should consider.

The one we got a bid for was called a ducted Mitsubishi Hyper Heat.

Rick Imby

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2019, 10:55:55 PM »
I put Amana heat/ac units like they have in most hotels into one of my buildings.  The units have to be mounted through the wall but it is fairly simple.  They start at about $500 per room.  You can buy them online and have an electrician mount them.  They work great.  The tenants have complete control of the temp in each room.  It would also leave money in your budget to get your electrical service updated to 200 amp.  It cost me 2500 to have that done on one of my buildings.

No way will you get central AC mounted in a 100+ year old building to work well.  One room too hot one too cold depending on where the sun is during the day.---No way I would even think of adding Central air to be out of control in the building.

Good luck

Papa bear

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2019, 10:54:47 AM »
I put Amana heat/ac units like they have in most hotels into one of my buildings.  The units have to be mounted through the wall but it is fairly simple.  They start at about $500 per room.  You can buy them online and have an electrician mount them.  They work great.  The tenants have complete control of the temp in each room.  It would also leave money in your budget to get your electrical service updated to 200 amp.  It cost me 2500 to have that done on one of my buildings.

No way will you get central AC mounted in a 100+ year old building to work well.  One room too hot one too cold depending on where the sun is during the day.---No way I would even think of adding Central air to be out of control in the building.

Good luck

I was looking at those units too.  I have 5 br’s per side, so I would have 10 of those to buy. And the main living area wouldn’t have AC either.

As for the central AC working well, that’s also a concern. The 3rd floor still may need supplemental air.


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Jon Bon

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2019, 11:50:01 AM »

No way will you get central AC mounted in a 100+ year old building to work well.  One room too hot one too cold depending on where the sun is during the day.---No way I would even think of adding Central air to be out of control in the building.


*raises hand*

My house has had AC added to it at some point and is 100 years old, pretty much like all of the houses in my neighborhood. You are right that you do get temperature deltas that you would not get in a newer house. But having it be 5-8 degrees warmer upstairs, but without the humidity makes it worth doing!


I would vote for 3 medium sized AC/Heat units 1 on each level. Kind of splits the difference between price and function? Total cost would be 400*3*2 Plus the cost of install? Which could easily be DIY.  These would do a pretty good job of conditioning the space, heck they would probably be more effective in keeping the upper levels regulated.  Good luck and let us know how it turns out.

J Boogie

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2019, 02:43:47 PM »
I would go minisplits. I have a non-mitsu minisplit secondhand that my uncle gave me (and helped me install) and it is great. Or maybe it is a mitsu. Anyways, he bought a new LG minisplit and it seems to work really well.

Why this option? It's less money and headache, and it might even offer greater comfort.

And like a previous poster mentioned, AC is like a yes or no thing. College students usually haven't rented before, so when they see a powerful looking AC unit on the wall and feel its cool breeze during the tour they will be reassured of its efficacy. You run those things all day (I assume they're paying electric) and you'd be surprised how cool they can make a big space.

Papa bear

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2019, 06:24:14 PM »
Current tenants are making any improvements more difficult there right now.

Some of them are on different work shifts, meaning they will be asleep mid day.  Work in their rooms won’t be doable.

Still leaning toward central air, and if the 3rd floor is still too warm, they can use their own window units.


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Villanelle

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2019, 03:08:20 PM »
I put Amana heat/ac units like they have in most hotels into one of my buildings.  The units have to be mounted through the wall but it is fairly simple.  They start at about $500 per room.  You can buy them online and have an electrician mount them.  They work great.  The tenants have complete control of the temp in each room.  It would also leave money in your budget to get your electrical service updated to 200 amp.  It cost me 2500 to have that done on one of my buildings.

No way will you get central AC mounted in a 100+ year old building to work well.  One room too hot one too cold depending on where the sun is during the day.---No way I would even think of adding Central air to be out of control in the building.

Good luck

I was looking at those units too.  I have 5 brís per side, so I would have 10 of those to buy. And the main living area wouldnít have AC either.

As for the central AC working well, thatís also a concern. The 3rd floor still may need supplemental air.


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What about a smaller central a/c unit for the living areas and first two floors, and then the "hotel-style" units for the upper floors only? 

Milspecstache

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Re: Central air vs minisplit - I need to think this through...
« Reply #11 on: April 08, 2019, 10:01:55 AM »
My vote is for mini-split.  I put them in my house in 2011 and they have run fine.  They will cool really well and I do consider Mitsubishi to be the top of the line.  Like you I wanted to save money so I ran the drain line (1/4" PEX) and refrigerant lines and electrical lines myself.  Even hung the units outside and inside so that I only needed the HVAC guy to show up and do final connections, pull a vacuum, and then charge the system.  My earlier contractor quote was $10k and I got it to less than half of that for 3 indoor units downstairs (mostly materials with me doing the bulk of the work).

I repeated upstairs and did the electrical connections myself that time.

If I did it again I think I would buy the vacuum pump and do everything myself but that was a bit of a leap for me at the first attempt.